Acoma Pueblo Things to Do

  • Street in Acoma Pueblo
    Street in Acoma Pueblo
    by toonsarah
  • San Esteban
    San Esteban
    by toonsarah
  • San Esteban
    San Esteban
    by toonsarah

Best Rated Things to Do in Acoma Pueblo

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    Taking a tour

    by toonsarah Written Nov 12, 2011

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    Street in Acoma Pueblo
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    To visit Acoma you have to take a tour, which start from the Cultural Centre. Tours cost $20 for adults, $12 for children and $17 for seniors and college students (late 2011 prices), with other discounts available for families and large groups. This fee includes permission to use one camera. Your camera will be tagged to show that you have paid, so don’t think you can use multiple devices for the one fee – and note that no video photography is allowed. We weren’t challenged however about the fact that our digital cameras can take videos (not that we tried to do so, naturally).

    Having paid your fee you join a small group (we were seven in number) in a minibus for the short ride to the top of the mesa with your guide. You are then escorted around the pueblo – the tour lasts about an hour and a half and is accompanied throughout, so no wandering off on your own. All guides come from the pueblo and really know their stuff – ours was excellent. The tour winds through the village streets and you will see the traditional houses, ovens, water cisterns and more. You finish in the simple but beautiful church of San Esteban (no photos allowed inside), having had a fascinating glimpse of Acoma culture and learnt much about the life-style, beliefs and customs of these people.

    When the tour finishes you have the choice of returning to the Cultural Centre in the minibus or on foot. I would like to have done the latter but decided that it would be wiser to save my still-dodgy back for places where there was no alternative but to walk, so we got the bus back. Others from our group who walked arrived about 15 minutes later while we were enjoying a cold drink in the courtyard and said that the walk was steep but not difficult, though they didn’t seem to have found it especially interesting (I have read otherwise here on VT however). Whether you plan to walk down or not, do wear sensible shoes for the tour as the ground even within the village is rough in places.

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    Cultural Centre and Haak'u Museum

    by toonsarah Written Nov 12, 2011

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    At the Cultural Centre

    The Acoma Cultural Centre is not only the starting place for tours, it is also worth a visit in its own right. I loved the building itself, with its heavy doors (carved to resemble 19th century textiles) and restful interior. The Haak'u Museum displays not only traditional Acoma wares, especially pottery, but also hosts changing exhibitions of more modern art and crafts. When we were there in September 2011 there were two excellent photography exhibitions, one of photographs taken across New Mexico by Craig Varjabedian and the other, which we found the more interesting, of photographs by local Acoma residents. The latter, although amateur, were very accomplished and in some cases powerful works. There was also a very interesting display of modern interpretations of traditional native art.

    The Cultural Centre also has a café, where the food is reputed to be very good although we only had a cold drink so can’t really comment (it looked good though!). There is the inevitable gift shop, with some very good quality merchandise including the traditional Acoma pottery, but I would only recommend buying this here if you are unable to do the pueblo tour for some reason (e.g. if you are a wheelchair user, or if you come in winter when tours aren’t available). Otherwise save your cash for the sellers in the pueblo itself, as it’s much more interesting to buy direct from the artist, and probably a little cheaper too.

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    Church of San Esteban

    by toonsarah Written Nov 12, 2011

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    San Esteban
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    The most prominent building in the pueblo is the Church dedicated to San Esteban, that is St Stephen. It was built between 1629 and 1641 by the Acoma people under the direction of their Spanish conquerors. Some accounts say that the Spanish forced them to build the church, others that the people were grateful to the Catholic friar, Juan Ramirez, after he saved the life of a local child, and thus built the church willingly. A legend tells that just as Friar Juan arrived at the mesa this child fell from its edge and was assumed to be dead. But as the people grieved for their loss, the stranger arrived at the top of the stone steps carrying the lost child in his arms, safe and well. The people took this as a miracle and a sign that they should welcome this man and the new religion he preached.

    The adobe structure remains largely unchanged over the centuries. The left-hand of its twin towers contains an ancient bell (the one on the right is newer). According to the Spanish account, the Acoma people traded four children for this older bell, but according to the people of Acoma, the Spaniards gave the bell as reparation after stealing four children from their families.

    My third photo is of Chris and me at the edge of the mesa with behind us Mount Taylor, known as Kaweshtima to the Acoma people. It was from this distant and sacred mountain that the Acoma were forced by the Spanish to bring wood to construct the church, including the large logs of the traditional viga ceiling. The wood was not permitted to touch the ground between Kaweshtima and Acoma – if a log fell or was dropped it had to be left where it was rather than be used for the building.

    Photography of the beautiful interior of San Esteban is not allowed by tribal rules. Its stand-out features include a traditional viga ceiling, with the characteristic parallel rows of heavy timbers, and a wooden altar carved by the Acoma in the 1630s, its twirled columns painted red and white – red, the colour of sandstone and adobe, to symbolise the Acoma and their traditional beliefs, and white to symbolise Catholicism, the two intertwined here as they are in the spiritual lives of the people. Most Acoma believe in and practice both religions, but a few only one or the other.

    Mass is celebrated in the church on special feast days. One of these is the feast of St Stephen, after which the statue of the saint is paraded around the village. Another is on Christmas Eve, when Midnight Mass is said. On these and on other feast days all the people return to the pueblo from their homes elsewhere as it is important for the tribe to celebrate together. As the church was built on the pueblo’s former plaza (lending credence I think to the version of the story that claims the people were forced to build it here), its dirt floor is kept largely bare and is used on native feast days for dancing.

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    The cemetery

    by toonsarah Written Nov 12, 2011

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    I have no pictures of the cemetery, as all photography of it is strictly forbidden, but it is too interesting a place not to mention it here. It lies in front of the church (out of shot on the left of my photo) and is even older than it. It was not part of the Acoma tradition to bury their dead, but with the adoption of some of the Spanish conquerors’ Catholic beliefs came also the introduction of burials. There is of course no soil on the mesa top, so earth for the cemetery has had to be carried up from the plains below in woven baskets. There are now five layers of graves here, and when this one is full no more will be added. Places in the cemetery are reserved for tribal elders and for those who have made the pueblo their year-round home – most Acoma are now buried elsewhere in the reservation, in the churchyard they share with the neighbouring Laguna tribe.

    At one end of the cemetery, in front of the church, is a raised area with a large cross, a memorial to all the unknown ancestors buried here in unmarked graves. The walls around the cemetery have humps, which in the inside can just be made out to contain faces. These are the guardians of the dead. One wall has a hole in it, to allow the spirits of the deceased an exit route out into the afterlife.

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    Saint Esteban Church Cemetary

    by kymbanm Written Jul 1, 2005

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    Cemetary Wall - St Esteban del Rey

    The cemetary next to the church is older than the church itself. Surrounded by a 40 foot adobe retaining wall, the interred have been placed in layers. The original layer was simply the decedents being placed into natural crevices with their blanket and then covered with a layer of rock.

    After the acceptance of Catholicism, it was deemed necessary to bury the dead under dirt. The women of Acoma brought the dirt up in tightly woven baskets - one basket at a time. As one layer of the cemetary filled, another layer would be begun. At this point, the cemetary is on it's 5th and final layer. No further burials will be able to occur here once this layer is complete.

    At the end of the cemetary closest to the door of the church is a raised area with a large cross. This cross is to honor the unknown ancestors contained in the lower levels ... whose names are only known to their decendents as legend.

    There are humps on the top of the cemetary wall. from the outside, that is all they appear to be. From the inside, they contain faces ... eyes, noses, ears and all. They are the sentinels who watch over the dead and protect them. There is also a hole in one wall to allow the spirits of the deceased a way to exit into the afterlife.

    Photography is prohibited in the cemetary, as well as the church. But limited photography of the wall is permited .....

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    Acoma Visitor Center

    by kymbanm Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    Under construction ... really!
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    The visitor center is undergoing extensive rebuilding at this time, so is temporarily housed in trailers next to the construction zone. [I took a picture of the construction site, and the temporary digs .... but my picture disk decided to have 'issues' and I couldn't retrieve 'em ..... harumph! So months later I returned, and the spirits of Acoma decided they were ready to be seen on the internet ... finally!]

    The current visitor center includes a counter to buy your tour ticket, a continuous loop movie about the history of the Chaco Canyon and Acoma people, a gift shop, and a snack bar. The new one, which should be opening in the next few months, will have interactive exhibits, museums and all sorts of wonderful things! I can't wait :)

    History is everything to people with oral traditions, such as those of Acoma. The language of is Keresan, a decidedly different language than that of the neighboring pueblos. This language is so unique that it is only an oral language ... there are no written forms and so it must be passed on from person to person .... the same manner in which they pass on their traditions.

    Acoma (pronounced eh-Ko-Ma or Ah-Ko-Ma) is derived from the Keresan word Hak'u. HaK'u means in a sense to prepare or plan. The Acoma people believe they are the direct decendents of the inhabitants of Chaco Canyon. After a prolonged drought, the Chacoans needed to relocate in order to survive. It was prophesied from the beginning that there existed a place ready for the people to occupy. Searchers looked throughout the region until they found the site that is currently known as Sky City - the oldest continuously inhabited town in North America.

    Adult tour: $10.00 per person
    Camera fee: $10.00 per camera

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    Saint Esteban Church

    by kymbanm Updated Jul 1, 2005

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    Saint Esteban del Rey Mission

    This mission/church was built to symbolize the love of the Acoma people for their beloved Friar Juan as well as for their patron saint.

    Legend has it that after warring with the Spanish, the Acoma people were distrustful of strangers. So when this non-native man in a dress approached the mesa, the people of the mesa believed him to be up to no good. As he was approaching, a child fell from the mesa, and was considered lost.

    As they grieved for their loss, the inhabitants of Acoma were surprised to see the Friar emerge from the stone steps that lead up to the top of the mesa with the lost child in his arms. Considering this a miracle, they honored Friar Juan and welcomed him into their community. As a result of this miracle, the Acoma people began to learn about Catholicism.

    The beauty of the Catholic Church here in the southwest is so obvious here at St Esteban. Catholic, and traditional Native beliefs, have blended into a wonderfully unique version of this faith. Mother Earth, Father Sky, Corn, and other aspects of Acoma tradition have been blended with Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and Mother Mary ... all seperate entities, all equally powerful.

    According to the Spaniards, the Acoma people traded 4 children for the bell in the tower in the picture .... according to the people of Acoma, the Spaniards sent the bell after stealing 4 children from their families.

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    Acoma Pueblo Kivas

    by kymbanm Updated Jul 1, 2005

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    Acoma Kiva

    Though most Kivas, or spiritual buildings for ceremonies, in this region are round ... here in Acoma they are square, to concerve the limited space found at this site. Despite blending in with the other buildings on the mesa, there are no doors on the outside. Entrance to the Kiva is through the opening in the roof.

    The ladders which allow participants to reach the entrance are different that other ladders in the pueblo. The Kiva ladders have pointed tips - in the direction of the sky - to pierce the clouds and bring rain.

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    Acoma National Forest :)

    by kymbanm Updated Jul 1, 2005

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    Acoma 'forest'

    There is only one tree within Sky City .... it is unique as it has taken root in the rock of the mesa itself. This is taken to represent the tencious nature of the Acoma people, and the love of Mother Earth for these people ... and is jokingly referred to their National Forest.

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    Acoma Water Supply

    by kymbanm Updated Sep 18, 2005

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    A low level cistern in the spring .....
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    Being almost 400 feet above the nearby valley, there is no regular water supply in Sky City. All water is brought up from the surrounding area.... except when it rains. There are three natural indentations, or cisterns on the mesa. During the rare rainfall, water used by the inhabitants is collected. With only 11-13 inches of annual rainfall ..... every drop is precious.

    This lonely tree's ability to survive is probably enhanced by it's location at the edge of one of these cisterns.

    Though today, the Culligan Man does make deliveries ........... he doesn't deliver to the tree.

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    Walk the ancient way ....

    by kymbanm Written Mar 6, 2006

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    Feet first ... sometimes :)
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    After your guided tour of Acoma, you are given several choices. You can ask for the vendor guide to go back to the local artist's homes and make purchases ..... you can take the bus back down from the pueblo to the visitor center .... or (my personal favorite) take the walking trail down the side of the mesa back to the visitor center and your car :)

    This is a short walk, and supposed to take only 10 minutes or so for your descent. If you are afraid of heights (like moi), or love taking pics along the way (moi again) it will take you a bit longer. I take closer to 30-45 minutes as I take deep breaths and try to center my nervousness. You'll need 2 hands on parts of the path and might need to go down some sections feet first. Between stabilized paths, stairs carved into the rocks, and easy hand holds, it really isn't bad :)

    The view is what makes me take this journey ..... despite the fear in my chest as I crawl down the mesa. My imagination takes root as I think of the Acoma ancestors crawling up and down the sides of this mesa as part of their daily lives.

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    You must take the Guided Tour

    by Ken_Weaver Written Aug 29, 2004

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    Pueblo View from Tour Center

    The only way that you will be allowed to go on to the mesa and see the pueblo is by guided tour which leave the tour center every hour on the hour except June 24th and 29th, the first and/or second weekend of October, and the first Saturday of December. You will ride up to the top of the mesa in a modern air conditioned bus.

    Hours:

    November- March 8am-4:30pm
    April- October 8am-6:00pm

    Cost:
    Adult......................................$10.00
    Senior....................................$ 9.00
    Youth......................................$ 7.00

    Still Camera Permit.............$10.00
    Video cams are not allowed

    Call ahead to confirm hours and dates of operation

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    Mission de San Esteban del Rey

    by Ken_Weaver Updated Aug 29, 2004

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    Mission de Esteban del Rey

    The Mission is a 21000 square foot building atop the mesa. It is of adobe construction and the roof is about 50 feet above the floor. The roof is supported by massive cedar log beams that were cut about 20 miles away and carried, without touching the ground, to the top of the mesa and placed on the adobe wall structure. Logs that did touch the ground on the way were abandoned...the Acoma believed that the logs must be pure.

    The interior of the church is very interesting but photography is prohibited in both the church and the cemetery. While this is a very big building, there are only about 3 rows of pews in the sanctuary. The worshippers typically lay blankets on the dirt floor when celebrating Mass.

    The dirt on the floor is always repacked down and not swept out as it becomes loose from tourist and worshipper traffic. The thought is that the dirt represents the presence of souls and the Acoma want that presence to always remain there.

    Several of the art pieces on the wall are almost 400 years old, painted on buffalo skins.

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    The Cemetery

    by Ken_Weaver Updated Aug 29, 2004

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    Cemetery from a Distance

    In front of San Esteban, is a cemetery. The only people that are buried here are people who were permanent residents of the Pueblo or Acoma who were killed in battle. Again, photography is prohibited in the cemetery, so I could only take this one from a distance. The cemetery is built behind a 40 foot wall and the deceased have been buried over the years in 5 layers. On top of the walls of the cemetery are heads made of adobe that scare away bad spirits. The wall took over 40 years to build...all of the adobe for the walls and the fill dirt had to be carried up the narrow steps to the top of the mesa.

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    San Esteban del Rey Mission

    by goodfish Written Aug 28, 2009

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    San Esteban del Rey, Acoma

    This massive church was built over a period of 11 years (1629 - 1640) under the direction of Spanish friar Juan Ramírez and is, as is the entire pueblo, on the National Historic Landmark's list. As the mesa is solid rock and virtually devoid of building materials, 20,000 tons worth of earth and stone needed for construction of the mission had to be hauled up narrow, treacherous rock footpaths. Even the soil for the adjoining cemetery was transported from the valley below. In keeping with the tradition of building sacred kivas, the 35 ft. beams - felled at a mountain 30 miles away - were required to be shouldered to the site without ever being allowed to touch the ground.

    Besides the incredible amount of work it took to construct, St. Stephen's is unique in that it was one of very few of the area's Spanish missions to survive destruction during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 and contains a valuable collection of 17th century artifacts. The interior is vast and largely empty except for the altar and confessional - I assume to accommodate ceremonial dances - but the walls and ceiling are gaily painted with images that reflect both traditional Catholic and Acoman spirituality: the stations of the cross, rainbows, parrots and cornstalks. Acomans, like many of the other pueblo tribes, practice an interesting mix of traditional beliefs and Catholicism that has evolved over the centuries since forced conversion by Spanish missionaries.

    No photography is allowed of the cemetery and interior of the church

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